Carlisle City – Saturday 4th February 2017 (771)

'The appearance of both Dastardly and Mutley on the team sheet took no-one by surprise...'

‘The appearance of both Dastardly and Mutley on the team sheet took no-one by surprise…’

I’m usually pretty good with dates. The old adage is that it’s the bloke that forgets the Wedding Anniversary but in our house that rule simply doesn’t apply. Mind you, when I do remind the missus of each impending matrimonial milestone, she does tend to hold her head in her hands and shake it furiously from side-to-side. Her way of expressing exhilaration, I guess. The fact that this year we celebrate our Silver Jubilee must signify that, despite a quarter millenium of me suffering the fate of being an equestrian widower, she must be doing something right. That’s what I keep telling her anyway, by way of reassurance. She’s so lucky to have me, with my lack of vices and all….

2017 also means it’s now precisely 4 decades since the ‘Year of Punk’. Now I know pedants amongst you might – quite rightly – point out that ’76, with its long hot summer, was when punk actually kicked off, but most of the recorded music was released the following year, so that’s my standpoint. It seems like only yesterday that I was down at Blooblos, Katies or the Sandpiper, rubbing shoulders with the guys from Xray Spex, Soiuxsie & the Banshees, Sham 69, XTC, Lurkers, Slits, Damned and the Buzzcocks. I even had some hair then!

The missus and I have (well I have anyway) declared 2017 as our ‘Year of Celebration’ and so I’m busy arranging trips to all those places we used to go to before we had the family. With our two sprogs now very nearly capable of self-subsistance (as in ‘they’ve both got cars and know how a tin opener works’) we can venture further afield again, despite the other half’s near-umbilical connection to her beloved nags. Surprisingly, I might even get to fit in a footy match or two along the way!

I’m heading up to Carlisle today which admittedly isn’t part of our grand Jubilee tour on account of which I’m on my own, with one eye scanning the various Twitter feeds to see if ‘Storm No-name’ has had any effect on the day’s match prospects. It’s a while since I’ve been to this city, the last of my two trips to Brunton Park being some ten years hence. Prior to that it was 1975 and a Frankie Wortho decider for Leicester City. The programme for that game still eludes me, having mislaid my original along the way.

That latter fixture was reached via one of the old Football Special trains, consisting of several cattle trucks and an army of rozzers. But today it’s the relative comfort of a Virgin Pendolino, listening to Alice Cooper’s Schools Out – a vastly under-rated album – as I type this. I actually enjoy travelling on this Virgin West Coast route, with its extremely competitive pricing structure, which in the past has proved invaluable in my clearance of the Scottish Leagues. There’s nearly always plenty of free seats too.

The good news from Carlisle City – my destination – is that the pitch is heavy in places but playable, and so my plans are coming together. First a couple of beers in town and after deciding not to patronise the Thin White Duke (looks a bit too twee for the likes of me) I find the King’s Head tucked away near the Market Cross. Although the decor is a bit mock tudor, the welcoming bar staff make this place a good environment to drink in – no wonder it was CAMRA City Pub of the Year 2016. Even better that the local Yate’s Bitter is on sale. This was one of the first of the golden beers and has yet to be ruined by the use of sickly foreign citrus hops. As such it’s eminently drinkable, even for a ‘malt-head’ like me!

Deciding there’s no time to dally for a second pint, I eschew the delights of the two ‘Spoons situated virtually side-by-side by the station, and head off in the general direction of City’s Gillford Park stadium down Botchergate and London Road to the St Nicholas Arms which, according to What Pub, offers an opportunity to sample Carlisle Brewery beers, but with the rider ‘Check before visiting if looking for real ale’. Sadly, I fail to head that advice and draw a blank. The pub next door is all-keg too, and every other hostelry I encounter along this road is boarded up – a sign of the times.

Now a word of advice for any other mug thinking of walking from Carlisle railway station to Gillford Park. It may look enticingly close as you cruise past on the Western mainline, and Google Maps might suggest a stroll, but it’s at least 2 miles and probably more, taking me at least 30 minutes despite my legs operating at a higher rate of propulsion. When I arrive I’m greeted by a grizzled gateman who says yes, pitch fine, but opponents and referee all stuck on the M6 courtesy of a huge smash (‘police incident’ says Traffic England) down at Tebay. So nothing else to do but secure a programme and head into the adjacent Carlisle & District Railway Club, which sadly lacks any decent beer, is not showing footy on the TV, and doesn’t have wi-fi, but does have an overly-loud juke box – plus a couple of smiling and friendly bar-ladies, which always helps. I’m soon joined by a group of mature gents from Liverpool (today’s opponents being from the fledgling City Of Liverpool FC club) who have also had the wisdom to arrive by train and seem very affable, if somewhat boisterous.

The good news is that the team coach and referee have emerged from the traffic jam and the game will kick off on time. Gillford Park itself used to be home to the Northern League side of the same name, although latterly they flirted with the ‘Celtic Nation’ moniker before going tits-up. The already-established Northern Alliance club Carlisle City took over the lease in 2015, having secured promotion to the North West Counties Division One. The stadium is well-appointed for this level, and will provide a good platform for the club going forward. There’s a modern seated stand behind one goal, with clubhouse above, and a further seated stand down one side. Opposite is a full length coveted terrace, with only the bottom goal devoid of cover.

Food is courtesy of a burger van, but for the second Saturday in a row I encounter catering facilities where the word ‘variety’ seems to involve how many different meaty products are on offer. Choccy bars for me, then…..

The teams emerge to a fusillade of paper streamers, dispensed by an away supporter who doesn’t appear to want to pick up any of the mess he’s made. COLFC fans seem to make up the majority of the 120 present, and create plenty of noise as they occupy one of the seated stands – although all standing, of course, as is the modern way. A gentleman from the Netherlands strolls round the pitch waving the mother of all gigantic flags, bearing the legend Xerxes DZB which – according to the ‘inter web’ – is a Dutch lower league club albeit with a rich history. Apparently he’s a regular visitor to Gillford Park, for some reason unrevealed to me.

The game itself is not an even contest. The visitors slick passing moves cut through the home defence at will, and the final score of 0-6 doesn’t really do justice to the one-sided nature of the game. Almost certainly Carlisle City will have better days. At half time I’m flicking through the programme and an ‘On This Day’ feature grabs my attention. Amidst all of the usual grim historic news of terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and striking dockers, I see that it’s Alice Cooper’s birthday today – so there is the odd date that passes me by!

Footnote – I bump into a fellow hopper, Cumbrian Geoff, who collects old Carlisle United programmes and sells any spare copies he encounters – so there’s hope for me and that missing 1975 prog yet!

Footnote 2 – I met up with Cumbrian Geoff at the Scottish Hop in February and hey presto! – he’d got me the programme. Thanks Geoff!

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